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Cannes says ‘non’ to ‘Marie-Antoinette’

Sofia Coppola's new film receives middling reviews from critics
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sofia Coppola may have a bumpy road to match her father's feat of winning the main honor at the Cannes Film Festival.

Reaction at the Cannes Film Festival was mixed Wednesday for her "Marie-Antoinette," with some admiring its youthful energy but French critics booing the American filmmaker's take on a pivotal time in France's history.

There were equal amounts of applause and catcalls after the first press screening of "Marie-Antoinette," one of 20 films competing for the top prize at the 59th Cannes festival. Sofia's father, Francis Cord Coppola, won in 1979 with "Apocalypse Now."

Coppola initially said she was disappointed to hear about the booing, but later conceded it could be a tough sell for an American filmmaker to present her unorthodox take on a key figure in another country's heritage.

"We always knew that the French are protective of their history, and that's one of the challenges," Coppola, 35, told The Associated Press. "But I wanted to show it in France first, because we made it here and it takes place here."

An Academy Award winner for her "Lost in Translation" screenplay, Coppola adapted her latest movie from Antonia Fraser's biography of Antoinette, the 18th century queen whose extravagant ways preceded — and have been blamed for helping to incite — the French Revolution in which she eventually was beheaded.

"Marie-Antoinette" features Kirsten Dunst — the star of Coppola's first film, "The Virgin Suicides" — as the Austrian aristocrat married off in a political union at age 14 to Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), heir to the French throne.

The film uses period costumes, and Coppola received permission from the French government to shoot in the palace of Versailles in the locations where events took place.

Yet Coppola presents the story through a 21st century filter, Marie-Antoinette's party-girl ways accented by modern pop culture trappings. The driving soundtrack includes Bow Wow Wow doing "I Want Candy" and a cover of "Fools Rush In," while trendy Manolo Blahnik shoes were used to create stylized variations on designer footwear of the era.

Desperate French royalty"Marie-Antoinette," which is scheduled for U.S. release Oct. 13, casts the title character as a well-intentioned teen who was ill-prepared by her mother (Marianne Faithfull) to handle the pressures of court life. The film also features Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Asia Argento and Steve Coogan.

Young Marie is seen as an object of gossip over the years it took her nervous husband to consummate the marriage and produce an heir. Louis seemingly is more interested in hunting and his hobby of making keys.

At a news conference for the film, Coppola was asked if Marie-Antoinette was an 18th century variation of the frustrated women on TV's "Desperate Housewives."

"I've never seen ‘Desperate Housewives,' but I think, here's this woman, wife, whose husband is not paying attention to her, so she's staying out partying and going shopping," Coppola said. "We've heard that story before."

"Marie-Antoinette" was the latest entry in the 12-day festival's main competition that has failed to live up to expectations of critics eager for a film to embrace amid a generally dreary lineup.

The most notable dud was Richard Kelly's sprawling "Southland Tales," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in a combination of black comedy and sci-fi thriller about Los Angeles on the brink of apocalypse in the near future. "Southland Tales" was greeted with almost universal derision.

Richard Linklater's consumer satire "Fast Food Nation" also earned a halfhearted response from Cannes viewers, while Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" was viewed as a sturdy drama about the fight for Irish independence but not a film worthy of the Palme d'Or, the festival's prestigious top honor.

Since French critics' reaction to "Marie-Antoinette" is unlikely to influence the awards jury, "Marie-Antoinette" remains a viable contender for the Cannes prize — along with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," a multicultural drama featuring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," with Penelope Cruz in the tale of three generations of women.